Muthumari (36)

Occupation: Kudumbasree worker

Kudumbasree began about 10 years ago and I joined 8-9 years back. I have been clearing waste from houses on the PHED road at Eranhipalam. Every alternate day, I clear waste from the neighbouring street and thrice a week from another cluster of five houses a little away. So on days when I am doing these areas apart from PHED road, I take waste from about 60 houses.

I begin by collecting waste at the six-storey apartment complex and move on to other houses and establishments in the row. Over these years, a mild change has happened in the way people handle waste. Though they still don’t segregate plastic and biodegradable waste entirely, some at least make an attempt. Earlier, it was downright bad. All kinds of waste would be bundled together and we had to sort them manually. At some houses, they would dump sanitary napkins and diapers too. So I end up giving them lessons in etiquette too. I tell them I am too coming from a house doing the same stuff that you do at your place and it is impolite to make me handle such dirt. Now most of them wrap diapers and napkins in paper and pack it separately so that I know. Initially, I would find glass too in the waste basket, but now most them warn me or say they have packed it separately.

But the biggest hurdle I face is plastic. Unless people understand and lessen its use, there is no respite for those like me. At most places that deal with plastic, they only take clean stuff, so those like me are left to deal with the plastic menace.

I mostly finish my work by noon. Wednesday is, in fact, my busiest day when I collect waste from the entire neighbourhood, so I wind up late that day. By the time I am done with collecting and sorting, our van comes and I hop into it and we push down the waste into the Corporation vehicle. The waste collected afterwards is stored in the vehicle and put into the Corporation van the next day.

One gets used to the stench that is an inevitable part of waste collection. Yes, I have a mask, but I am not comfortable with it. In the early years, I used to get about 12 pairs of gloves, now we get about five. Some tear up in a few days. So whenever I get them from beauty parlours or laboratories I use them too.

At some houses, they pay me Rs.100 a month, at others Rs. 75. That way, I make about Rs.4,500 a month. Things get difficult when I fall ill. I have some niggling illnesses and if I do not turn up for a few days, the waste I have to handle when I get back is a nightmare. Though I begin early, my daughters insist that I have my tea and breakfast and then start work. I have also made a lot of friends, thanks to the job. Some women are helpful and they enquire about my well-being when I go to pick up waste. Some give me extra money during festivals.

My eldest daughter is doing her hotel management while my younger daughter is in class XII. The husband is a daily wage labourer. My daughters often tell me to stop this work, I guess it makes them uneasy to know that I work among waste. But I tell them this is the work I know and I have raised them doing this job.

(As told to P. Anima)

A weekly column on the men and women who make Kozhikode what it is.